My answer to this question is always the same: 18! Before you turn 18, your parents are legally responsible for you and can make legal decisions on your behalf. After you turn 18, NO ONE can do that. It comes as a huge shock to most of my clients, but in the event of incapacity – neither your parents, nor your spouse nor your children can sign for you in banks, speak on your behalf to government agencies or initiate a lawsuit on your behalf. Unless, of course, they have a Power of Attorney or they went to court to seek a guardianship order.
Many unfortunate things happen to adults. Car accidents, skiing accidents, heart attacks, etc. If you have not executed a valid Power of Attorney the court will often hold a Guardianship Proceeding to name your financial guardians; the Guardianship process can be long, lengthy and the judge may come to a wrong conclusion (from your point of view). Yet this process is completely unnecessary if you have a Power of Attorney naming your choice of agent. So while we cannot predict the future, we can take a proactive approach and draft a Power of Attorney to inform the world of our preferred financial representative.
It is important to choose and name someone you trust to make financial decisions on your behalf. You may have two cousins, one of whom you trust with your life and speak with regularly, and another one you have not seen in years. Do you really want them to have an equal say in your financial decisions? You may have two children, one of whom is responsible, works in a bank and takes you to your doctor’s appointments, and another child who is travelling in South America, has recently declared bankruptcy and sends you a Facebook message once a month. Do you really want these two to have equal control of your money?
Yet in both of the above cases, the two ‘closest’ relatives may have to fight this battle in court, in front of a judge who will have approximately 30 minutes to determine which of the two individuals is better suited to take care of your financial affairs. To avoid unpleasant results – think about your wishes early and sign a Power of Attorney.